Normally I don’t watch TV news, instead relying on newspapers for information and books for knowledge. However, in rural France, where I am now, no British newspapers are to be found, and French papers aren’t worth reading. Not only is their writing poor but, for someone of conservative disposition, they’re actively irritating and medically dangerous. Politically Le Figaro is about like The Times, Le Monde is like the Guardian and La Liberation is Trotskyist. The whole range is shifted leftwards, and my blood pressure simply can’t handle it.
So there I was, watching, rather than reading about, our DPM doing a star turn on Sky News. And a decent TV performer he is too, almost as good as Rory Bremner. Clegg’s impersonation of a statesman was confident, polished and, apart from the odd ‘at the end of the day’, stylistically sound. And if only I had his looks… In other words, loved the delivery, shame about the content.
The jolly, rotund Irish interviewer asked Clegg if Britain would eventually sign everything Cameron refused to sign last month. No doubt about that, came the disloyal reply, provided some unspecified ‘safeguards’ are inserted into the document. After all, ‘three million UK jobs depend on our ability to export to Europe.’
How do politicians get away with uttering statements that wouldn’t survive 10 seconds of even half-competent and scantily informed opposition? What makes them so sure of their intellectual invulnerability? This kind of self-confidence borders on effrontery which, coupled with photogenic looks, seems to be the sole requirement for political success these days. But scratch their arguments, and you’ll find nothing but hot air inside. Scratch a bit harder, and you’ll hear a hissing sound.
In this instance, Clegg’s assumption seems to be that, should we, God forbid, leave the EU, we wouldn’t be able to trade with Europe, thereby losing the three million jobs supposedly derived from that activity. But that’s arrant nonsense, which Clegg probably knows but wouldn’t tell.
First, the EU would continue to export to Britain because 1) we buy more from them than any other country does, and much more than they buy from us, and 2) slapping protectionist tariffs on British exports to the EU would be contrary to the rules of the World Trade Organisation and indeed the EU’s own Lisbon Treaty. Witness the fact that the EU didn’t apply such restrictions to either Switzerland or Norway, both of which wisely stayed outside the Single Market. And yet, in per capita terms, the former exports to the eurozone three times more than we do, and the latter five times.
Clegg’s second assumption is that staying in the EU has a positive, indeed indispensable, effect on our economy. That too is nonsense. Our costs, hidden or otherwise, of belonging to the EU are far greater than the total value of our exports to the continental 26. These costs are variously estimated at four to a whopping 20% of our Gross Domestic Product.
Moreover, almost 90% of our unsustainable trade deficit is caused by trade with the EU. That means that at least two million jobs that would otherwise stay in Britain instead go to Germany, France, Italy and the rest (it takes jobs to make the goods we buy from them).
Also, it’s useful to remember that 90% of our economy has nothing to do with European trade — it’s either domestic or involving trade with other countries. And, while our exports to the EU account for about 40% of our total export activity, they are growing at a much slower rate than our exports to other continents.
To sum it all up, if we left the EU with immediate effect, we’d save at least 10% of our GDP and unshackle our businesses currently groaning under the weight of European regulations and red tape. Which is to say we’d be much better off even in purely arithmetical terms, never mind in the areas dealing with Britain’s ancient laws, national sovereignty and traditional rights of Englishmen. Those considerations alone would be sufficient for us to leave the EU even if the sums added up. But they don’t.
If we left now we’d be in a much stronger position to prepare for the toxic fallout of the economic catastrophe lurking just around the EU corner. Should the euro collapse, in its present form or altogether, as anyone with a modicum of economic education knows it will, we’ll suffer one way or the other, as will the rest of the world. But our exposure would be much smaller outside than inside, and smaller still if we had enough time to shift more of our trade away from the eurozone.
If Clegg doesn’t understand any of this, he’s a fool. If he does and still mouths his usual ignorant platitudes, he’s a knave. And if we have someone like him in a position of power, what does it make us?